Languishing educational software

Two separate events got me a-ponderin’…

Tom Hoffman at eSchoolNews suggested that Intel release Showing Evidence (which, in case you’re new to this site, we designed and developed) as open source to ensure its survival over the long run. I’m also in the process of putting together a portfolio of our work in anticipation of meeting a client, so I’ve been revisiting our old projects.

…our software is languishing!

We’ve now been in business long enough that some of the software we created no longer runs on recent operating systems (e.g. we have software that works on Mac Classic, but not OS X. Thank goodness Microsoft is so slow.). Other software has barely seen the light of day (e.g. there weren’t enough resources to release and support the software).

Let’s face it, it costs money to keep technology curricula updated and supported. It’s great to have a big pot of money to fund development, but these projects need a plan to be self-sustaining in the long run. As much as I’d like to see these projects succeed, we’re simply not set up to do both the maintenance and support needed to keep such curriculua up and running. And even if we wanted to be, our clients rarely have the resources to support such an endeavor. Intel is actually a rare example of an organization large enough to potentially keep a project running.

This seems to imply that there ought to be SOME cost associated with using the materials, rather than giving anything away for free. The guys at 37signals mentioned that when they raised their prices from $49 to $99, they actually got some emails THANKING them for the price increase because the customers felt more assured of the long term viability of the product. Granted their customers are businesses with more money to burn.

I wonder if for future projects, we should add a clause in our contract that says if the software languishes, we (Inquirium) will be given the opportunity to release it?

So let’s say that we do use the community barn-raising approach to keep things running: Is it feasible to create enough of a community around each and every piece of software? Who would make up such a community? Commercial educational developers like us? Researchers with development chops? Dedicated teacher users who plan on using the software every year in their classes? Moonlighting curriculum developers who don’t get enough satisfaction out of their daily work? Who would be able to provide the disk space and bandwidth?

posted February 03, 2006 by ben

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